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The Clean Air Partnership is a registered charity, founded in 2000. Our mission is to work with partners to achieve clean air, facilitate the exchange of ideas, advance change and promote and coordinate implementation of actions that improve local air quality.

Making Green by Going Green: the Clean Air Partnership’s Green Economy Summit

On a rainy October morning, leaders from all over the GTHA filed into Toronto’s City Council chambers to discuss issues of the environment and issues of the pocketbook. Politicians, municipal staff, business leaders, representatives of NGOs, students and interested citizens filled council chambers to hear inspirational tales of sustainable businesses turning massive profits and to discuss how the GTHA can leverage the successes that are already taking place in our region into an even broader movement.

Oshawa Mayor John Henry at the Green Economy Summit signing the Greater Toronto Area Clean Air Council declaration.

The GTHA region is already one of North America’s leading hubs for green business.  From the Partners in Project Green Eco Business zone at Pearson Airport to the incredible popularity of the Smart Commute Program, our region is starting to realize that environmental sustainability and economic success are not, as they are so often portrayed, diametrically opposed.  In fact, the complete opposite is true: as a business lowers its environmental impact, it also increases its profitability.

Dr. Bob Willard speaks to the crowd at the Green Economy Summit in Toronto’s council chambers.

The keynote speaker of the Green Economy Summit, Dr. Bob Willard, provided some excellent examples to the crowd, showing where businesses could see a 60-80% increase in profits by lowering their energy use, decreasing waste and engaging employees more effectively.  The most challenging aspect of convincing businesses of the benefits of sustainability, Willard said, is to figure out just how much you have to underestimate and understate the savings and profits that they can achieve.  Willard stated that his findings showed that businesses could often see an increase in their profits of over 100%, but that when he presented businesses with those figures he was often met with disbelief and pessimism, so he had to scale back his figures to ensure that business leaders didn’t think of him as a snake-oil salesman.  Once businesses took Willard’s advice, however, they saw their profits increase far beyond what they had originally expected.

If I had to distill down the entire summit into one key point, it would be that continuing along a path of environmental degradation costs a lot of money. Energy is increasingly expensive, waste disposal is more costly than ever, and we’re losing a lot of money in wasted productivity due to unsustainable designs and practices. Businesses that recognize the value of decreasing the amount of money they waste in heating inefficient buildings, powering outdated lighting systems and dumping materials that could be reused or recycled are the ones that are going to see increasing profits as the economy continues to change. Those that refuse to spend money to reduce their energy use or to engage their employees more effectively may see smaller capital costs in the short term, but over the medium and long-term, their costs are going to erode their future profitability more and more.

Pamela Blais discusses the way development charges can be distorted to subsidize unsustainable development, and how to remedy that.

Interestingly, the same principles apply to municipalities, as the second keynote speaker, Pamela Blais, emphasized.  Blais emphasized the importance of rethinking how our cities are taxed, designed and built in an environment of increasing municipal fiscal constraints.  The sooner municipalities realize that infill development and increased urban density costs much less to service than low-density greenfield development, the sooner they can begin changing the pricing structure for development charges to stop the subsidization of suburban development by more sustainable urban densification, and the sooner they can bring their budgets into balance. Cities in the GTHA are already starting to move towards this model, with The City of Markham providing an excellent example of where development charges vary across the City to reflect the development goals of the municipality.

Town of Ajax Councillor Joane Dies (right) signing the Greater Toronto Are Clean Air Council declaration with members of her staff.

For those in attendance at the Summit, the general feeling at the end of the day was one of optimism and excitement.  The GTHA is poised to become one of North America’s most important regions with regard to the green economy.  This Summit drove home the points that most of the people in the room already knew: that being sustainable also means being more profitable, but it also gave them new tools to communicate that message in a more concrete, more powerful way.  It’s going to be exciting to see what kinds of collaborations and projects come out of this Summit in the future!

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